Disclaimer: “Me Before You” is not the type of book I would go out of my way to pick up off a bookshelf. I lost interest in Nicholas Sparks while I was a junior in high school after I realized he sets unrealistic relationship expectations in which both men and women are held to impossible standards. Since Sparks dominates the romance genre, I have rarely picked up any novels written by his contemporaries, including JoJo Moyes.
I could blame it on the recent passing of Valentine’s Day and my sentimentality, but I will own up to the real reason I chose to pick up the book described by the New York Times as provoking “tears that are redemptive, the opposite of gratuitous.” I saw the movie trailer on Facebook. Embarrassing, I know, but either way I feel I should warn people about what they are doing if they read this novel.
“Me Before You” is not a love story in a way that you would expect. It is not happy; it’s depressing. So much so that you begin to question the morality of suicide. The book is properly weepy. The protagonist of the story is a quirky and likable 26-year-old girl named Lou who cannot keep a stable job after the café she’s been working at for years gets bought out.
Despite being unambitious, Lou is resourceful and manages to land a job on the rich side of her small English town, becoming a caregiver to the once vivacious Will Traynor, who is now a quadriplegic. You probably think you know where this is going, and you’re right, for the most part.
The novel is littered with the same type of emotional flim-flam that keeps enticing readers of the genre over and over. Will’s unimaginable situation challenges Lou to see a different perspective on the life she’s been given. He’s angry and malicious upon their first meeting, and Lou is unsure she is up to the task Will’s mother gives her of boosting his morale. Lou slowly uncovers why Will is so unwilling to make the best of the lot he’s been given— he was an adventurer who took what he could from life before being resigned to a wheelchair. In contrast, Lou has her entire life ahead of her and has made nothing of it.
Throughout the novel, the reader is enraptured by Lou’s exhausting efforts to prove to Will that his life is worth living. Without saying too much, the conclusion is a bittersweet one. I’m not entirely sure I’ll be picking up Moyes’s sequel “After You” anytime soon, but I don’t consider the novel to be a total waste of a weekend.
Moyes’ writing is average at best, but her storytelling is admirable. My one true complaint is that she uses the views of other characters in the novel as a crutch to push the story along. I would recommend this book to someone who just wants a good cry or is looking to feed his or her emotions. Beyond this, “Me Before You” is just another book of the genre—sad but inspirational.
The movie adaptation is set to premiere on June 3 and has a star-studded cast from the who’s who list of young British actors. Emilia Clarke from HBO’s “Game of Thrones” plays Lou and Sam Claflin from “The Hunger Games” trilogy plays Will. Along with Jenna Coleman from “Doctor Who” and Matthew Lewis from the “Harry Potter” series, the casting alone is enough for me to recommend the movie to any anglophile maybe as a “to see with mom” flick. Although the book didn’t do much to entice my tear ducts, I’m hoping the movie will turn me into the emotional train wreck promised by the book’s praising reviews.